BMCR 2019.07.58

The Greek and Roman Trophy: From Battlefield Marker to Icon of Power. Routledge Monographs in Classical Studies

, The Greek and Roman Trophy: From Battlefield Marker to Icon of Power. Routledge Monographs in Classical Studies. London; New York: Routledge, 2018. xiii, 161. ISBN 9780415788380. $140.00.


To investigate the use, role, and evolution of the trophy, Kinnee has employed art, semiotics, philology, linguistics, sociology, anthropology, and history. She argues against common assumptions about the trophy: that the Greek and Roman trophies served the same objective, that the Roman trophy duplicated its Greek predecessor, and that the Greek implementation was rare compared to the Roman. She unfurls the chronological transition of the trophy among all Greek periods as well as the Roman Republic and the Augustan Principate. The first chapter introduces the topic and historiography. Chapter two covers trophy definitions and etymology. The third through fifth chapters introduce the use of Greek trophies and the transition of their use over time. Chapters six through eight handle the Roman application of trophies from origin and adaptation to the introduction of the tableau.

Lauren Kinnee contributes to the recent scholarship on the Greek and Roman trophies, which includes a book by Britta Rabe (2008) on the Greek trophy, two short articles¬—one on the votive dedication of weapons noted in archaeological finds by Thomas Fischer (2012) and the other on trophy images on coins by Anton Höck (2012)—, a chapter by Matthew Trundle (2013), and a short discussion by Peter Meineck and David Konstan (2014).1 While most of Kinnee’s sections start with an individual historiography relevant to the chapter, she has omitted Trundle, Fischer, Höck, and Meineck and Konstan. Rabe appears in the bibliography, but not the historiography sections or endnotes where Rabe’s arguments were relevant. Furthermore, Kinnee’s conclusions differ drastically from Rabe’s, though Kinnee does not discuss or explain this. Despite these historiographical oversights, Kinnee’s work provides a necessary and detailed treatment of the raison d’etre of the trophy (she initially describes the trophy’s function as not merely a victory icon, but a symbol of power, a Greek necromantic and apotropaic talisman, and a Roman tool for empire building) with a chronological approach that explains major differences and shifts in the way the Greeks and Romans used trophies (1-2). Kinnee sees multiple functions for the trophy, which differs from the psychological purpose assigned by David Konstan and Peter Meineck, who claim that “the tropaion merely allowed the individual a means to confront the trauma of battle by allowing him to say, in relation to this object, that he was victorious.”2 Kinnee does not address Rabe’s conclusion that the Greeks’ trophy was not merely about victory, but more closely connected to the concept of areté.3

The first struggle the reader will find in Kinnee’s work is nailing down a working definition for the trophy. Kinnee provides several contradicting definitions with no reconciliation or explanation for the discrepancies. In the first chapter, Kinnee maintains that the true definition of the trophy is the mannequin, which she defines as “a tree stump dressed in arms and armour stripped from the battlefield dead” (1). In chapter two, Kinnee rejects towers, tombs, monuments, war booty, and other depictions of the mannequin, as well as piles of armor as trophies (14-15); however, confusingly and without explanation, she heavily (and almost exclusively) includes towers, tombs, monuments, and naval rams in chapters five through eight. This also make her narrow definition that rejected monuments and armor problematic. In chapter four Kinnee looks through the written accounts of the Greek term τρόπαιον (trophy), finding the denotation was a bit more fluid (34). She further muddies the definition of trophy by revealing that Greek sources unanimously understood the trophy as an item that marked victory, placed in an important location on the battlefield, constructed from armor of the opponent and a support structure, specifically dedicated to Zeus, and clearly distinct from other war booty (36-37). This is one of many examples of contradictions in Kinnee’s understanding of the trophy. To be fair to Kinnee, the primary sources disagree on the definition of trophies, but her multiple conflicting definitions sprinkled throughout the manuscript introduce more confusion than clarity.

Following the “Introduction,” Kinnee’s second chapter, “Grappling with Definitions,” clarifies the etymology of the Greek τρόπαιον and Latin tropaeum. The term came from the Greek word “turn” (τρέπω), which she contends, like some of the ancient authors, referred to the turning point in a battle. She links the term to both magic and hoplite tactics. Her argument is not particularly original here. Current scholarship has also proposed that trophies could be magical or practical, temporary or permanent, and Kinnee chimes in on this significant debate by providing examples of how they were deployed in all four ways simultaneously (11-13). Later, in chapter five, she explicates concurrent temporary and permanent trophies, noting the use of temporary trophies waned as hoplite phalanxes declined (55-57).

In chapter three, “Repairing Fractured Perspectives,” Kinnee suggests that Greeks began setting up both temporary and permanent trophies in the fifth century BCE, but not before the Persian Wars (18-22). This contradicts her statement in the introduction that the Greek trophy developed gradually and concurrently with the hoplite phalanx (3, 36). Without citing any primary sources she proclaims: “the trophy cannot have existed in the 7th century because hoplite tactics prior to the 5th century involved no ‘turning point’” (22). Kinnee further theorizes that trophies signified a strategic phalanx maneuver. This seems to conflict with other areas where she says that the trophy symbolized victory or the turning-tide of the battle, an event that could happen without a specific phalanx maneuver. While she states the trophy evolved with the turning point of phalanx battles, she also argues that it derived from an apotropaic talisman: Kinnee notices the similarity between early portrayals of Dionysus on vases, the trophies, and herms, leading her to theorize that the earliest (pre-phalanx) mannequin trophies were erected in liminal spaces like apotropaic herms (28). Kinnee postulates that trophies echo those who died in battle as a post-facto victory offering, demonstrating the original intent of the trophy was prehistoric, perhaps a gift to Zeus, as opposed to her (and other ancient and modern scholars’) idea of the trophy’s connection to hoplite warfare (25-28).4 The reader is left confused about the origin and purpose of the trophy. Another problem with Kinnee’s hypothesis of the trophy representing the phalanx turning-point is that she fails to prove the claim with primary source evidence, and her cited secondary sources are ambiguous and dated. Kinnee does not reconcile or defend her argument against Rabe’s more recent conclusion “that the currently accepted thesis stating that the tropaia emerged with the development of the hoplite phalanx no longer holds true.”5 Several subsequent points —including this discussion in chapter four—hinge on this premise of the trophy as a phalanx turning-point which Kinnee has left unsubstantiated.

Chapter four, “The Greek Trophy: Written Sources,” concentrates on the trophy in written sources from Homer to Lycurgus. Kinnee proceeds chronologically through the Greek authors, which proves to be a major strength of her research. First, Homer records some sort of proto-trophy, but does not describe the standard mannequin nor employ the term tropaion (35-36). In this account Odysseus killed a military enemy, hung his armor on a bush, and later dedicated the armor to Athena ( Iliad 12.137-138; 23.795-804). While Kinnee sees the background of the trophy as one that is prehistoric in terms of its religious and magical connotations, she disagrees with Prichett’s argument that when Odysseus hung a slain enemy’s armor on a tree it was a religious dedication and trophy (8-9).6 Kinnee reiterates that the trophy could only be a phalanx turning point, though this conflicts with her previous assertion that trophies in the form of hanging the armor on a mannequin-tree may have been used to catch the dead spirits (25-27). Kinnee, like Trundle, further denies that Odysseus’ hanging armor encompassed the function of the trophies, but it is unclear what function Kinnee means here because she previously ascribed many roles for the trophy: victory symbol, religious talisman, dedication to the gods, and turning point in battle (36).

Kinnee concludes that the term trophy became more metaphorical in the late fifth century and that by the early- to mid-fourth century, trophy references decreased (35-38, 40). Kinnee gives the primary sources chronologically to show this shift. However, her conclusion should be taken with caution. She categorizes Thucydides (not before 411 BCE) in the early to mid-fifth century, yet positioned Aristophanes’s Wasps (422 BCE) in the subsequent Late Classical period. Kinnee skips from the fourth to the first century BCE with Diodorus Siculus, who did not expect his audience to know the reason for the trophy, although he attests they were still constructed in battle (40-41). With Diodorus Siculus alone, Kinnee determines trophies transformed from a battlefield sign to metaphors of military power (42-44).

The fifth chapter, “Visual Evidence and the History of the Greek Trophy,” goes through the earliest illustrations of Greek trophies (vase painting, relief sculpture, coins, and permanent monuments). Kinnee offers some historiography of the visual representation, disputing common consensus on their dates (46-48). She covers three permanent trophy monuments commemorating the Persian War at Marathon, Salamis, and Plataea, and one commemorating the victory of Thebes over Sparta (50-53). The monuments depict armor nailed to wooden structures as a sacrifice to the gods, and depicted the trophies receiving animal sacrifices (46-48).

In chapter six, “Roman Adoption and Adaptation of the Greek Trophy,” Kinnee compiles visual and written evidence to examine the Roman implementation of the trophy. Rome first learned of the trophy from Syracuse, as evident through Rome’s earliest representation of the trophy on a third-century BCE coin (61). Romans transformed the trophy into what Kinnee classifies as “high art” and “low art”: “high art” via monuments and statues, moving away from “low art,” wood and armor (65). Unlike the Greeks, Romans erected trophies in locations other than battle grounds and paraded them in triumphs (66). Kinnee distinguishes four unique features of the Roman trophy: that they are associated with triumphs, located near or in cities instead of at battle sites, elaborately sculpted, and dedicated to patron gods rather than exclusively to Zeus or Poseidon (66-67, 106-107). It should be noted that Kinnee specifies that Romans placed trophies inside of cities, but then later states the opposite, that trophies were located outside of cities (66-67, 96, 106). Kinnee provides examples of trophies erected by Sulla, Pompey, Julius Caesar, and Marius (chapter six), and by Augustus (chapters seven and eight). Though she includes images of Trajan’s trophy monument and column with two sentences of explanation, she does not treat the Roman trophy after Augustus (71, 121, 134).

Chapter seven covers the trophy tableau—the symbol of the trophy with bound captives flanking the mannequin—and the locations of Roman trophy monuments. Kinnee pinpoints the introduction of captives as a Roman innovation (74). She offers a new interpretation of the Tomb of Caecilia Metella (74-78) and examines the first coins with the tableau from 101 BCE (78-80). She also contextualizes the trophy tableau within the Marius-Sulla power struggle (80-82). Kinnee emphasizes how politically competitive Roman generals altered the use and meaning of the trophy. The final section describes the Lugdunum Convenarum (Saint Bertrand Trophy); unlike other Roman trophy depictions, it was not a proclamation of a specific victory, but rather a symbol of regional dominion (88-99). Regarding location, Kinnee shows that Greeks and Romans alike established trophies on an array of structures: arches, gates, sanctuaries, and other buildings. The Romans began to erect trophies in liminal spaces, proclaiming ownership of the vanquished land instead of marking a specific battle victory (14, 105, 115-116, 124).

The eighth chapter, “Development of the Landscape Trophy in the Republic under Augustus,” delves into the architectural trophies in rural and frontier areas, like Nikopolis and La Turbie. Kinnee reasons that Octavian’s trophies reorganized Actium, and his ship-ram trophies at Nikopolis (not mannequins, but included in the idea of trophies by both Kinnee and the ancient authors) exemplified typical Roman characteristics: architectural elaboration, placement between borders, dedication to a patron deity, and self-promotion (109-112). For all of the Roman chapters, Kinnee has missed the opportunity to go in as much depth on the primary sources as she did for the earlier Greek sources. For example, she considers parts of Virgil, but overlooks a key passage from Aeneid 11. 5-11. Her work on the Roman trophy focuses on a few artifact examples, sidestepping an investigation of written sources and the vast array of trophy images the Romans produced. While her introduction suggests Kinnee will cover the entire Roman period, her work cuts short with Augustus. She omits other Roman empire examples including the Temple of Hadrian on the Campus Martius and Minucius Felix’s late second-century description of the Roman military trophies.7 She does unveil her interest in continuing her trophy research to the early modern period’s revival of the trophy symbol, but does not address her lack of attention to the Roman empire (133).

The book is full of wonderful black and white images that underscore Kinnee’s arguments. Unfortunately, the ink causes the pages to stick together, which has damaged some of the images in my copy. Also, the outside cover has a laminate protection that has already started to peel on my copy. Physical flaws aside, Kinnee’s dissemination of a chronological approach to the trophy and valuable coverage of the development of the Greek trophy and Roman trophy tableau is a historiographical necessity. My critiques should not negate the merits of Kinnee’s work. Her essential book brings new information to light on the trophy, but there are a few areas of ambiguity and neglected sources.


1. Thomas Fischer. “Waffenweihungen und Tropaia im römischen Reich,” in Waffen für die Gӧtter: Krieger, Trophӓen, Heiligtümer, edited by Wolfgang Meighörner and Wolfgang Sölder, 204-214. Innsbruck: Tiroler Landesmuseen, 2012. Anton Höck. “Tropaia auf Münzen—Darstellungen von Sieg und Niederlage,” in Waffen für die Gӧtter: Krieger, Trophӓen, Heiligtümer, edited by Wolfgang Meighörner and Wolfgang Sölder, 217-220, Innsbruck: Tiroler Landesmuseen, 2012. David Konstan and Peter Meineck. Combat Trauma and the Ancient Greeks. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. Britta Rabe. Tropaia τροπή und σκῦλα: Entstehung, Funktion und Bedeutung des griechischen Tropaions. Rahden/Westf: V.M. Leidorf, 2008. Matthew Trundle, “Commemorating Victory in Classical Greece: Why Greek Tropaia ?” In Rituals of Triumph in the Mediterranean World, edited by Anthony Spalinger and Jeremy Armstrong, 123-138, Leiden: Brill, 2013.

2. Meineck and Konstan, 175.

3. Rabe, 166.

4. e.g., Trundle, 123.

5. Rabe, 165.

6. William Kendrick Pritchett. The Greek State at War, vol 3. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008, 277-278; Trundle, 126-127; Iliad 12.137-138, 23.795-804.

7. Marcus Minucius Felix, Octavius, 29.